Supergirl – Season 6 Episode 4
Supergirl continues to split the time between Kara working to escape the Phantom Zone and the team dealing with the Phantoms threatening National City.
A good episode that maintains the strong character work in both ongoing plots and plays to the strengths of those interactions. Both plots are near the point of outstaying their welcome though one concludes and the other is looking to be nearing a conclusion. As always the strongest aspect of the show is the characters and how they relate to the situation. Alex and J’Onn taking on a leadership role that keeps things moving forward suits their characters as well as linking into their established relationship with Kara. In particular Alex is hopeful that Kara can be rescued but has that on the back burner due to the immediate threat posed by the Phantoms. Her interactions with Lena are a good marker of her position and the tough decision she makes to sacrifice the only sure fire way to locate Kara in order to end the threat of the Phantoms showcases her understanding of the values Kara lives by. Lena’s reaction motivated by guilt makes sense for her and going along with Alex’ decision showcases growth on her part. Their conversation that highlights her value through her unique perspective is a really strong one that makes great use of the characters. Brainy’s comfort eating highlights that Kara’s absence is taking a toll on him and provides a good opportunity for a meaningful interaction with Nia that makes good use of their dynamic.
The Phantoms fail to be engaging as antagonists as they are driven by instinct which means there’s little weight to the conflict. All it does is try to grow its numbers and with the threat to the city not being represented by showcasing the reaction those who live there have to the people going missing the threat is more of an obstacle to divert focus rather than a significant issue that has to be stopped. There is an impressive horror driven sequence that hides budget limitations well and the defeat of the Prime Phantom is an impressive display of teamwork that feels perfectly on brand for the show but it remains less than compelling overall. The Phantom Zone plot once again reinforces Kara’s positive attitude despite the overwhelming odds through an on the nose speech about how far they’ve all come that prompts Zor’El to remember an obvious detail. The execution is somewhat clumsy but the intent is clear. Nyxly being revealed as an antagonist works as it ties into her established history with her father and Kara sacrificing her only way home once again reinforces her selfless and heroic nature. Fortunately it looks like the Phantom Zone plot is building to an end point and Kara will soon be able to interact with the other characters once again.
The focus of the early part of this final season is unquestionably on what Supergirl represents both as a hero and as an idea, specifically in the context of those close to her. There has been no coverage of how National City views its resident hero which is definitely a drawback considering so much attention is being given to what her absence means for the rest of Team Supergirl. The void created by Supergirl not being around should really be covered in a wider context. CatCo would have been one way to explore that so it’s odd that the setting has been completely dropped for now in favour of Team Supergirl operating out of the tower. This does provide plenty of opportunity to explore the emotional state of the main cast but it’s another failure to give National City any semblance of identity that stands out in particular because they should in theory be reacting to Supergirl not being around.
Team Supergirl’s heroics are entirely focused on the threat of the Phantoms which makes sense given the scale of that problem but the singular threat makes National City feel very small. This show has often found a way to balance the arc driven threats with more run of the mill crime that the team can get involved in. With Kara off the board there is an opportunity for Nia to come into her own as a protector and seeing her foil some robberies or muggings would go a long way towards showcasing her as a hero the city could look up to. COVID driven filming restrictions probably make things like that a lot more difficult but it’s a noticeable gap in the storytelling.
Another thing that makes the city seem small is that almost no attention is given to the fact that the Phantom is abducting people to transform into its progeny. Lots of people are disappearing and it amounts to little more than an extra detail to raise the stakes for the team. It’s something they’re aware of and are working to prevent but the actual impact it has on average people on the streets isn’t addressed. Once again this would make CatCo a useful element as it could be used to deliver the perspective of the innocent people being affected by these disappearances and ramp up the threat level by highlighting that failure has a tangible consequence. It is there in the background but isn’t allowed to attain the importance it deserves.
The episode does excel in the personal stories going on within Team Supergirl. Each of them are still finding a way to cope that works for them. Alex has moved to cautious optimism and is concentrating on her leadership skills as a way to keep everyone on task. She still hopes for Kara’s return but has put it on the back burner for now with the threat of the Phantoms being her immediate concern. J’Onn adopts a similar approach and both hold the welfare of the team as a very high priority. Slotting them into this shared leadership role is natural given their prior contribution to the show as well as the relationship they each have with Kara.
Lena takes her place a fully fledged member of Team Supergirl now that she has removed herself from Luthorcorp. She joins them in the Tower and lends her expertise to help them solve the problem. Most notably is that she acts as a contrarian voice arguing for Kara’s return to be their top priority. This comes through most clearly when a tough choice has to be made and the device she built to track Supergirl in the Phantom Zone has to be recalibrated to track the Phantom. The recalibration prevents the device being used to track Kara at all and a new DNA sample is required to create another one so saving National City means leaving Kara stranded until a new plan can be formulated.
Alex doesn’t hesitate to make the tough call which is consistent with her character and cites Kara’s values as the reason she chooses to prioritise National City. She knows that Kara would make the same decision so it’s another reminder of how much she has inspired the team. Lena resists the decision because she feels responsible for Kara’s predicament due to her work giving Lex the power that enabled his victory so she is desperate to make amends for it though Alex insists it isn’t her fault but suggests if she feels that way then she can make up for it by honouring Kara and throwing herself into what she stood for. Lena’s distinct voice is good to have on the team as Alex points out because she offers valuable input that allows for the consideration of other options. This show has often been good at the various characters having distinct voices and this is being proven with Lena’s contribution.
At the moment Lena’s primary motivation is guilt but she is processing it in a more healthy way than she has historically processed her other issues. She accepts Alex’ decision and gets to work making sure the sacrifice is worthwhile rather than giving into her likely first instinct of going behind Alex’ back in order to force the prioritisation of Kara’s return. It amounts to significant growth on Lena’s part that she understands the greater good coming before her personal feelings and she is well on her way towards the redemption that she needs to achieve for herself. Any scene between Lena and Alex was excellent and fully in service of this idea.
Brainy is at the point where he is starting to lose hope and this manifests through comfort eating doughnuts. Nia picks up on this and offers to support him but Brainy is initially in denial as to the extent of his hopelessness and thinks he can stop eating his feelings anytime he wants. It allows for more engaging scenes between Brainy and Nia while highlighting the cumulative impact Kara’s absence has on those around her. Eventually he is able to admit that he’s struggling and lets Nia be there for him which is expected yet feels earned when it happens.
This episode marks the end of the threat of the Phantoms which feels about right as far as this plot goes. It was on the verge of outstaying its welcome and never quite managed to rise to the occasion of feeling like a significant problem, partly for the reasons I mentioned above and partly because developments involve meaningless technobabble.. What it amounted to was a distraction that kept the team from giving all of their attention to finding Kara which is fine in theory but the execution was lacking. It’s mentioned in this episode that the Phantom operates on instinct which makes it an antagonist that has no real depth to it. All it does is work to grow its numbers and offers a ticking clock that leads to a point of no return for its victims. How it enables the characters to react to the challenge ahead of them is consistently good but as antagonists go it’s far from the strongest.
Despite that the sequence in the sewer starts out really well with some strong horror vibes that get around the budget limitations nicely. Things like Brainy being dragged into the shadows by an unseen threat is really effective and the general sense of foreboding as everyone involves moves toward the final confrontation comes across well. Ending the threat with a strong display of teamwork is perfectly on brand for the show as well and reinforces the message that the episodes so far have been driving at.
In the Phantom Zone, Kara appears to be close to finding her own way out when she finds the portal out of there. It only works for someone righteous so naturally she’s the best candidate and she appears to have plenty of support thanks to Nyxly’s restored powers as well as her father. There’s an immediate setback when the mirror that represents the portal is cracked rendering it useless which causes Zor’El to give into his defeatist attitude and immediately decide that all hope is lost prompting Kara to remind him of everything they’ve been through before this point. Her view is that they have constantly defied the odds and have arrived at this point together so there is no reason for them to give up now. As always Kara’s values are displayed through her positive attitude in the face of an overwhelming situation and she remains the beacon of hope. Her speech is very on the nose as many of them are and Zor’El coming to realise that there is probably a spare mirror somewhere is hilariously convenient but the point is made and Kara’s optimistic position remains clear.
Nyxly being revealed to have villainous intent wasn’t quite the surprise the episode wanted it to be but her motivation remains solid. Going after Zor’El because she sees Kara’s desire to protect him as a sign of weakness links back to her account of her relationship with her own father featured in the previous episode. Since her father let her down she believes that any paternal relationship is a sign of weakness so looks to help Kara by removing that. Ultimately she sees Kara’s protective nature to be a barrier to her finding her way home which is her primary motivation and it doesn’t take long for the conflict to come to a head. Nyxly makes a big mistake by making it personal and insisting that she will have some fun on Earth before returning to the Fifth Dimension. Naturally that isn’t something Kara can allow to happen and she doesn’t hesitate to sacrifice what could be her only way home in order to protect Earth from Nyxly. It’s no surprise that Kara is heroic enough to make that sacrifice so nothing new about her is learned through that but the point of this plot so far is to highlight what makes her who she is and this selfless act accomplishes that. After doing so she tries to get Nyxly to leave with her once again demonstrating how heroic she is though is forced to run when she refuses. It does appear that Zor’El and Nyxly are claimed by the blast but I doubt that will be the case.
As with the Phantom threat in National City, this plot is getting to the point where it’s overstaying its welcome but it also appears to be building to a conclusion with the upcoming time travel story and the lack of options left for Kara to escape the Phantom Zone by herself. In both cases things seem to be building to a conclusion that takes the season in a different direction. I personally look forward to Kara being able to interact with the other characters once this is over.
- Lena’s meaningful contribution to the team dynamic
- Alex and J’Onn moving things forward due to their natural leadership skills
- Alex internalising Kara’s values and making the necessary difficult decision
- Lena’s growth showcased through understanding the reason for the sacrifice
- Lena being motivated by her guilt and the exploration of that
- Brainy’s loss of hope showcasing the compounded impact of Kara’s absence
- an impressive horror sequence
- Nyxly’s betrayal being informed by her family history
- further reinforcing Kara’s optimism and heroism through her actions
- her sacrifice having meaning
- the impact of the Phantom threatening the people of National City not being shown
- clumsy dialogue in places
- contrivances allowing things to play out in given ways
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